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View Full Version : How do you pronounce 'Gawain'?


lissener
03-20-2006, 11:44 PM
I know that, according intuitive modern spoken English, and therefore the most frequently heard, it's guh WAYNE. But an Arthurian scholar, writer of books and junk, Ph.D., told me it was actually GOW @n (@=schwa). To rhyme with plowin'. He told me this was determined by analyzing rhymes in Chaucer and things like that.

I need conclusive cites, if there is such a thing. Google gets me a 50-50 sampling.

Marlitharn
03-21-2006, 01:16 AM
I can't find anything conclusive, either - my googling seems to show that both pronunciations are acceptable - but FWIW, my English Lit teacher in college declared that [email protected] was correct.

MrJackboots
03-21-2006, 01:19 AM
Huh. I heard that it was an alternate spelling of "Gavin" and should be pronounced that way.

Dijon Warlock
03-21-2006, 01:49 AM
But...but...

According to the PBS show "Between the Lions," it's pronounced to rhyme with "Wayne" only with a 'G' at the beginning.

"Gawain's Word, Gawain's Word, Party On, Excellent!!"

It's educational television, right?

Otherwise, I got nuttin'.

Anastasaeon
03-21-2006, 02:42 AM
Hmm. There are a good handful of folks back home in NB who have this as a last name; it's pronounced GOW @n, as in the OP. I have no idea how it would be pronounced as a first name, though. If I ever encountered it, I'd pronounce it "Gowan" unless corrected.

Miss Mapp
03-21-2006, 05:37 AM
My medieval lit teacher used to pronounce it GOW-ayne.

WordMan
03-21-2006, 07:12 AM
Well, all I can say is that this seems to be a necessary thread - there are almost as many pronunciation options as there are posters, so far.

Who can help fight the ignorance here? It surely isn't going to be me....and we clearly need cites!

twickster
03-21-2006, 07:14 AM
I've always heard it pronounced "[email protected]"

Dusty
03-21-2006, 07:19 AM
Back in highschool, we pronounced it G'WAY-in.

No cite, that's just how we said it.

irishgirl
03-21-2006, 07:45 AM
I know a Welsh Gawain, and he pronounces it GAH-win, sort of like Gavin, but with a "w" and more stress on the first syllable.

I suppose if you substitue an American accent for his Welsh one, it would become "Gowin" to rhyme with "plowin".

Beware of Doug
03-21-2006, 08:18 AM
Another cite for GAHwayne: my 11th grade English teacher. I like [email protected] better myself.

Paranoid Randroid
03-21-2006, 09:07 AM
Yet another completely anecodotal cite: my eldest brother was into literature and told me it was pronounced "GOW-in". (In fact, he downright scolded me for pronouncing it Gah-WAIN.) I assume some professor told him that.

The Chao Goes Mu
03-21-2006, 09:18 AM
Hmm. There are a good handful of folks back home in NB who have this as a last name; it's pronounced GOW @n, as in the OP. I have no idea how it would be pronounced as a first name, though. If I ever encountered it, I'd pronounce it "Gowan" unless corrected.


Ok. Pardon my ignorance. Where is NB? Sorry to sound so damn nosey but I'm wondering if NB has a large Welsh population.

I'm going to kick myself when you tell me, huh?

saoirse
03-21-2006, 09:51 AM
Ok. Pardon my ignorance. Where is NB? Sorry to sound so damn nosey but I'm wondering if NB has a large Welsh population.

I'm going to kick myself when you tell me, huh?

I believe that's New Brunswick. No info about about its Welshiness, though.

I was also taught in college that it was GOW @n. I can give you cites (http://pweb.jps.net/~sangreal/bhall.htm ) from Google, (http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=Sir%20Gawain ) but my professor was much more reliable a source.

The Chao Goes Mu
03-21-2006, 09:56 AM
I believe that's New Brunswick. No info about about its Welshiness, though.

I was also taught in college that it was GOW @n. I can give you cites (http://pweb.jps.net/~sangreal/bhall.htm ) from Google, (http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=Sir%20Gawain ) but my professor was much more reliable a source.


Thanks mate!

Oh, and I also was taught to pronounce it Gow @n.

NE Texan
03-21-2006, 10:26 AM
Ima' Gawain totha stoah now.

Subterraneanus
03-21-2006, 10:58 AM
It's pronounced mangrove throat-warbler. The correct spelling is "Raymond luxury yacht."

lissener
03-21-2006, 11:21 AM
Well I'm glad that most of you seem to agree with me, of course. There's a first time for everything! :D

But see the thing is, I'm in a writing group, and one of us is writing this Arthurian thing, and he says "guh WAYNE." I corrected him. I was jumped on by the rest of the group, told that I was nuts. It's seven to one against the TRUTH!!! (A position that is not unfamiliar to me, of course.)

I need cites! I need enought authority to rub seven noses in!

The Chao Goes Mu
03-21-2006, 11:33 AM
Ima' Gawain totha stoah now.


Ooh, I didn't know they spoke Gullah as far west as Texas! Cool.

shamrock227
03-21-2006, 12:06 PM
I have about 3,265,857 books of Arthurian Literature at home. Most of them concur with [email protected]

mobo85
03-21-2006, 12:08 PM
It's educational television, right?

That explains why there's a talking potato on the TV.

shamrock227
03-21-2006, 12:10 PM
Sorry, hit "submit" while trying to close the window when I heard my boss coming :eek:

I will flip through a selection of the aforementioned books and try to get you some sites. I think I even have a dictionary of Arthurian names handy in that group.

lissener
03-21-2006, 01:04 PM
Sorry, hit "submit" while trying to close the window when I heard my boss coming :eek:

I will flip through a selection of the aforementioned books and try to get you some sites. I think I even have a dictionary of Arthurian names handy in that group.
Yes, please! I know it's a lot to ask, but if you could take a minute to type in a couple of cites, I'd be eternally grateful.

Interrobang!?
03-21-2006, 01:26 PM
But see the thing is, I'm in a writing group, and one of us is writing this Arthurian thing, and he says "guh WAYNE." I corrected him. I was jumped on by the rest of the group, told that I was nuts. It's seven to one against the TRUTH!!! Oh, the trials and tribulations of life as a prescriptivist. Thank god I've avoided those pitfalls.

(Would you have corrected Byron's pronunciation of Don Juan? Huh? Huh? You're stifling his creativity, man!)

saoirse
03-21-2006, 01:32 PM
Oh, the trials and tribulations of life as a prescriptivist. Thank god I've avoided those pitfalls.

(Would you have corrected Byron's pronunciation of Don Juan? Huh? Huh? You're stifling his creativity, man!)

No, but I would definitely correct someone who pronounced it the correct way now. You can't read the poem properly without hearing [JOO-un] instead of the Spanish pronunciation.

lissener is being a descriptivist. He wants the pronunciation to be described accurately. That is the way the word was pronounced.

Interrobang!?
03-21-2006, 02:00 PM
lissener is being a descriptivist. He wants the pronunciation to be described accurately. That is the way the word was pronounced. In case it wasn't clear, I was not particularly serious in my response. And of course, Gawain was, at the time it was used, pronounced in a particular way that was the correct way.

lissener wants to win an argument, and if I recall my English lit classes correctly, he'll do it. However, now Gawain is pronounced in a variety of ways, and being historically accurate is not the same thing as being "correct."

It's unlikely that lissener's friend really cares how it's pronounced in his story -- not the way Byron needed Don Juan to be intentionally mispronounced in his poem. But he's the author of the story, not lissener, so, like Byron, he gets to dictate how Gawain is pronounced within the context of his own work.

Of course, if that author claims that there's only one way to pronounce way to pronounce Gawain and it's gaWAYNE, he's wrong.

Elendil's Heir
03-21-2006, 02:13 PM
I have about 3,265,857 books of Arthurian Literature at home....

Don't forget the one that slipped behind the radiator.

lissener
03-21-2006, 02:22 PM
In case it wasn't clear, I was not particularly serious in my response. And of course, Gawain was, at the time it was used, pronounced in a particular way that was the correct way.

lissener wants to win an argument, and if I recall my English lit classes correctly, he'll do it. However, now Gawain is pronounced in a variety of ways, and being historically accurate is not the same thing as being "correct."

It's unlikely that lissener's friend really cares how it's pronounced in his story -- not the way Byron needed Don Juan to be intentionally mispronounced in his poem. But he's the author of the story, not lissener, so, like Byron, he gets to dictate how Gawain is pronounced within the context of his own work.

Of course, if that author claims that there's only one way to pronounce way to pronounce Gawain and it's gaWAYNE, he's wrong.
Well, to clarify. We had read the story--actually a screenplay (see what I get when I try to edit the truth for clarity over accuracy?)--on our own. When we began discussing it, I was the first person to mention the character Gawain aloud. Another member of the group corrected me, saying "It's guh Wayne." The author agreed with her. I said, "Actually, it's GOW @n." The first person said, "Nuh uh, I'm getting this directly from THWhite." I said, "Well, maybe you read it off the page that way, but the actual historically correct pronunciation is GOW @n." She rolled her eyes at me, and everyone else in the group said, "I think she's right."

So, this is not so much about me trying to impose my pedantry on a lone author. I'm trying to defend myself here. And the fact that it's a screenplay means that it's meant to be heard, not just read off the page, otherwise I'm not sure I wouldn't have dropped it.

In any case, all I'm looking for is a factual cite, so I'm not sure why the aspersions on my motivations. I kinda think I'm fighting ignorance here. That I have a minor personal stake in it doesn't strike me as particularly egregious.

jjimm
03-21-2006, 02:28 PM
No, but I would definitely correct someone who pronounced it the correct way now. You can't read the poem properly without hearing [JOO-un] instead of the Spanish pronunciation. They had somthing similar on an arts programme on the BBC last week. The subject was Don Quixote. The presenter announced "Don Key-HO-teh" and all the academics said "Don QUICK-sote". In the short discussion that ensued, Melvin Bragg defended this by saying "we're speaking English, not Spanish". Same applies, apparently, to the pronunciation of Majorca.

lissener
03-21-2006, 02:30 PM
Oh and, prescriptive v. descriptive is a perfectly valid discussion in re: grammar. grammar is the original open source software; we can all claim equal authorship. A proper name, however, does have a single correct pronunciation. Names may evolve over time, but one individual's name is not likely to go through the same kind of changes over that person's lifetime. Unless you're Steven Segal of course.

The answer to "How would Gawain have pronounced his name, if he was a real person?" does have a correct answer. Because of the intervening history, the final correct answer may be unavailable to us. But there's enough scholarship in that area that we should be able to get pretty close to it. Certainly we can reach a consensus on a binary question like "Is it GOW @an or guh WAYNE?" If scholarly consensus is 50-50, I'll concede the point. If it's 90-10, I'll call that close enough to conclusive, considering.

lissener
03-21-2006, 02:33 PM
They had somthing similar on an arts programme on the BBC last week. The subject was Don Quixote. The presenter announced "Don Key-HO-teh" and all the academics said "Don QUICK-sote". In the short discussion that ensued, Melvin Bragg defended this by saying "we're speaking English, not Spanish". Same applies, apparently, to the pronunciation of Majorca.
That's a British thing. THe British have historically been very imperialist in their approach to foreign language. Thus we have Don [email protected] and Don QUIX-oat. That, plus the fact that before the era of recorded speech, fewer people were familiar with accents other than those immediately familiar to them. So just because, for various reasons, a mispronunciation acquires a sense of tradition, doesn't make it right; it just makes it entrenched.

Besides, Gawain is British.

NE Texan
03-21-2006, 02:39 PM
Ooh, I didn't know they spoke Gullah as far west as Texas! Cool.
Heh. Actually, I picked up that type of pronunciation from living in New England for a few years - it reminds me of how people I knew in Maine spoke.

Rubystreak
03-21-2006, 02:49 PM
I took a class in grad school in which I had to read Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English. The prof pronounced it "GOW-ann." [email protected] However you spell it. So that's how I pronounce it.

Interrobang!?
03-21-2006, 03:35 PM
In any case, all I'm looking for is a factual cite, so I'm not sure why the aspersions on my motivations. I kinda think I'm fighting ignorance here. That I have a minor personal stake in it doesn't strike me as particularly egregious. I'm not in any way intending to cast aspersions on your motivations, and I'm sorry if it came across that way. I'll try to avoid lightheartedness without smiley faces in the future.

lissener
03-21-2006, 04:07 PM
I'm not in any way intending to cast aspersions on your motivations, and I'm sorry if it came across that way. I'll try to avoid lightheartedness without smiley faces in the future.
Naw, I know. I saw the twinkle in your eye. Sometimes I think you enjoy testing my devil's-advocate tolerance. . . . [twinkle]

My response was more defensive than, um, explicatious. (expletive?)











[twinkle twinkle]

Anastasaeon
03-21-2006, 04:45 PM
Ok. Pardon my ignorance. Where is NB? Sorry to sound so damn nosey but I'm wondering if NB has a large Welsh population.

I'm going to kick myself when you tell me, huh?

I know it's been answered already, but I would like to clarify that it is the province of New Brunswick, in Canada, that I am speaking of (and not New Brunswick, New Jersey). Also, we're mostly a bunch of Irish/French mutt mixes, but, at least where I'm from (Charlotte County), there's a damn good dose of Welsh in there, as well. I worked with three Welsh ladies at the factory, and was taught by no less than five Welsh teachers (as well as two Irish, one Scot, and three from England).

So, yes, those with the family name of Gawain, though they didn't have a Welsh accent, could easily and very probably have had Welsh ancestors.

You know, for years I wondered why not all Canadians spelled "colour" with a "u", or "realise" with an "s", or pronounced the letter "z" as "zed", since we had that drilled into our heads and were told that was the "Canadian Way"... and now, rereading my post, it hits me. Well, I'll be damned. :smack:

jackelope
03-21-2006, 05:36 PM
Just to throw a little extra confusion into the mix:

J. R. R. Tolkien was a well-regarded medieval scholar. (I think he wrote some novels too.) In the tradition of medieval scholars, he penned modern-English translations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and several other Middle English poems.

He spelled it Wawain, and as far as I have been able to ascertain, intended it to be pronounced "WA-wayne."

I am not making this up. Apparently (and I'm going way out of my zone here), the confusion derives from an old Welsh consonant, approximated "gw" in our alphabet.

That's as far as I'm going to assert. I did find this site (http://thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?FAQ/Why__is__Gawain__sometimes__spelled__Wawain), which says in part:Gawain seems to appear first in Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (as Walgainus, though in Latin the name seems to also appear as Galvaginus and Galvanus) and is frequently identified with Gwalchmai ('hawk of May') of Celtic history (and/or mythology), though some authors (including R. Graves) note that the name Gawain derives from Gwalchgwyn ('white hawk') rather than from Gwalchmai.(Side note: A few years ago I wrote a screenplay in which a couple of medievalists, meeting by chance while one is robbing the other's apartment, share a snicker over the word "Wawain." They later start an "applied rhetoric company" and become successful underworld persuaders. It wasn't very good.)

shamrock227
03-21-2006, 05:39 PM
Don't forget the one that slipped behind the radiator.

Who told you? :eek:

Bad news from the book front. The ones I've checked so far have tons of variations on the name, but no pronunciations. The only one is Myths & Legends of the Middle Ages, Guerber, Helene, 1909 ed which shows it as Ga'wain.

Sorry. I'll keep at it since I refuse to believe that I have been saying it wrong all this time.

lissener
03-21-2006, 05:44 PM
Yeah, I'm surprised I'm finding such a balanced range of cites online, considering any "authority" I've ever talked too--and I used to be a hardcore Arthur buff; have met more than one authority--pronounced it GOW @n. But the guh WAIN pronunciation has become so widespread in the "vernacular" that it's given equal weight at all the online cites I can find.

Miller
03-21-2006, 05:45 PM
But...but...

According to the PBS show "Between the Lions," it's pronounced to rhyme with "Wayne" only with a 'G' at the beginning.

"Gawain's Word, Gawain's Word, Party On, Excellent!!"


According to the experts, it does have schwa in it.

"Schwa right! As if!"

lissener
03-21-2006, 05:49 PM
Anybody have a Britannica subscription? Anybody know any university professors in this field, or have an idea of an authority to maybe email?

jackelope
03-21-2006, 06:13 PM
Anybody have a Britannica subscription? Anybody know any university professors in this field, or have an idea of an authority to maybe email?I'm writing to my former professor. No idea if he'll remember me, though...

HazelNutCoffee
03-21-2006, 07:35 PM
I'm writing to my former professor. No idea if he'll remember me, though...
Me too, although I think her specialty was more 17th-century Brit lit. But this discussion has made me curious. And I'm quite sure of being remembered. ;)

- Hazel, who graduated just last fall

saoirse
03-21-2006, 07:57 PM
In case it wasn't clear, I was not particularly serious in my response. And of course, Gawain was, at the time it was used, pronounced in a particular way that was the correct way.


Yes, i know. I wasn't really looking for an argument either. Probably just low blood sugar. I'll see if I can find some Quix-Oats.

BrainGlutton
03-21-2006, 08:02 PM
Classic from "Freaky Fables" by Handelsman (used to run in the British humor magazine Punch):

UTHER: Come out of there, Vortigern!

VORTIGERN: Shan't! Who's out there, anyway?

UTHER: Your worst enemy, King Uther!

VORTIGERN: How do you spell that?

UTHER: Who knows? W-Y-D-D-R, I shouldn't wonder!

Manatee
03-22-2006, 02:47 AM
I occasionally teach medieval literature and I pronounce it differently depending on the text.

When reading SG&TGK, I pronounce it as the OP has it: GOW in (rhymes with plowin'), which I take to be the Gawain/Pearl--poet's pronunciation.

When reading Malory (especially in modernized editions), I tend to pronounce it Guh WAYNE, partially because in modern English it just seems like that's how it shouldl be; partially because I read a modernization of Malory before I ever read SG&TGK and didn't know any better.

But I've also heard the Gavin and Gwayne pronunciations, too.

So the bottom line is that I don't know if you'll be able to get a definitive answer. Asking for the correct pronunciation of a medieval word is almost as bad as asking for the correct spelling of one. I'd have to ask, "Who's using it?"

HazelNutCoffee
03-22-2006, 10:35 AM
So the bottom line is that I don't know if you'll be able to get a definitive answer. Asking for the correct pronunciation of a medieval word is almost as bad as asking for the correct spelling of one. I'd have to ask, "Who's using it?"
This is basically the answer I got from my professor:
The thing about the pronounciation of medieval texts is that no one really knows how it is pronounced and some use the modern pronounciation and others used the medieval ones. You can use which ever you like; the first (ga-WAYNE) version is what most poeple would use, the second (GOW-in) is probably nearer to the medieval version, although this itself could be challenged.

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